DIY Color Matching 101 – The Pursuit of Perfection

I never fully understood how people were able to find the perfect shade of every color in all the fabrics that they needed to produce one color perfect ensemble. It was only until my internship at Marchesa did I learn the true benefits of hand dyeing fabric. It was also there that I overcame my fear of dumping thousands of dollars worth of fabric into a dye vat and praying that it would end up being the same color my swatch had been. So no big deal. I had 4 yards of Swiss cotton bobbinet. Only like a bazillion dollars a yard. Easy peasy.

I opted to use buckets for my mass quantity color match dyeing venture. The instructions on Rit Dye boxes usually suggest cooking it over a stove or using your laundry machine, but I usually avoid that because of the hassle and being banned from my local launder mat forever. The only time it really becomes necessary to have continuous heat is when the color you are trying to achieve is extremely dark/concentrated. Even then I avoid it and just use a microwave…Not the best solution but it gets the job done. Unfortunately I may end up eating my words as I attempt to achieve a rich almost royal red.

Anyway, a few extremely important things to keep in mind when trying to achieve the color you want.

    1.  First and foremost! Know your fibers!!! If it is polyester, you could spend years dyeing your fabric and it will still be as white as the first day you bought it. If you really must dye polyester, buy iDye POLY (<– make sure it says poly because iDye caters to both natural and synthetic fibers).


    1. If possible, try to get the color you want without putting in a million different dye colors. It will add more margin for error the more colors you add in. is a good resource for beginning color match dyers. Keep in mind these are not foolproof formulas so make sure you test the color with swatches before blindly dumping whatever you are dyeing in.


    1. Always have Pearl Grey, Tan and if you can get your hands on it, Ecru (it has been discontinued by Rit Dye but there are still a few places online you can get it). I haven’t tried Taupe yet, but the color looks familiar to Ecru. These colors act as neutralizers and help tone down the saturation of the colors you are using.


    1. Do not assume that blue is blue, black is black, brown is brown etc etc. It took me a while to realize this.  I haven’t dyed with every Rit Dye color yet, but a few things I learned and will probably help for you to keep in mind with the colors you are using…

      Tangerine – More red than yellow
      Sunshine Orange – More yellow than red
      Mauve – Add sparingly, it is a very strong color that has the ability to overwhelm your dye batch.
      Kelly Green – Yellow base
      Teal – A must for trying achieve a color that has teal in it. It just makes the entire process that much easier.
      Navy Blue – Purple base
      Royal Blue – Closest you will get to a true blue
      Evening Blue – Hint of a green base
      Denim Blue – Hint of a purple base
      Dark Brown – Purple base
      Cocoa Brown – Red base
      Tan – Add sparingly and it has the ability to achieve what your desired color, add too much and the entire dye batch will turn Tan. Also be sure to mix extra well (you should always mix well, but extra, extra well) with Tan otherwise you risk specks of red and blue on your newly dyed fabric.
      Pearl Grey – Always have on hand, it tones down the saturation. It just makes your color that much better looking.
      Black – Purple/Blue base. It almost will never be black.


    1. After fabric has been dyed, you do not always have to rinse the fabric and if you do, cold water. Otherwise, you run the risk of the color changing.


    1. Use a hairdryer. I know some of these things seem redundant but it definitely did not occur to me the first time I dyed. Blow dry your swatch to make sure the color is right. If the color is darker, use the cool air setting otherwise you risk fading the color with heat.


    1. Compare the dyed swatch to the color you are trying to match in different lighting. Fluorescent, incandescent, halogen and tungsten bulbs will all give different colors. Natural lighting is the most important as that will tell what the actual color looks like.


  1. Have Oxy Clean on hand. If for some reason the color ends up coming out wrong, Oxy Clean is really good at taking out the dye. I’ve only been told not to use it for silk tulle. I don’t know what happens if you use it with silk tulle but I’m not a glutton for punishment especially for over $50 a yard fabric. Guess I’ll never really know.

In reality, color match dyeing is a completely different animal when compared to your childhood days of tie-dyeing in your backyard. It really is an art that takes a lot of practice and patience to even begin becoming good at. If at first you don’t succeed, try, try, try again… and if that doesn’t work, perhaps it is time to consider taking it to professionals.

The only place I have had experience using is Eagle Dyers for Lace, because lace is almost impossible to dye on your own. They typically run about $50 per every yard requiring dyeing, but the results are to dye (hahaa) for.

Eagle Dyers
335 W 35th Street # 201
New York, NY 10001-1726

So my fabric has been sitting in my bathtub for a little over 3.5 hours now. Typically it should not take this long, but I didn’t plan ahead and only had ½ a box of Pearl Grey and Scarlett to work with so I’m hoping that by extending the time, it will help the color set better too.

My bathroom looks a bit like I’m in the midst of cleaning up a murder scene but I’m happy to say that letting the color sit paid off.

Hurray! Now off to school to continue sewing.

20 thoughts on “DIY Color Matching 101 – The Pursuit of Perfection

  1. Thank you so much for these tips! Im about to start a dye adventure tomorrow–nothing expensive, just some yuck colored thrifted tops, but I dont want to ruin them. Youve really put my mind at ease. Fingers crossed all goes well!

  2. Thanks for the run down of the undertones! I have a couple blues (Navy and Evening) and wanted to make a purple-ish for an ombre. I’ve used my pink on its own a few times so I know how it will turn out but I wasn’t sure which blue to mix with it as I fade. I will be going with the navy now (and of course using my cutting scraps as test swatches – but so much better to have an idea of a good starting point!). I do a lot of dying myself and generally follow the “recipes” on the RIT page if I can find a color I like, but as this project is a just for fun, try new techniques (ombre and draping) type project I wanted to use just what I already had on hand and they had no recipes for the colors I want using the dyes I have. Thank you for sharing your work and research, you just made my day tomorrow so much easier!

  3. I need to dye a decorative Bombay mosquito net from stark white to a yellowish ecru tone. It will just be a hint of color. Any suggestions for what will achieve the tint I need? Thanks

  4. I’ve recently started a blog, the information you offer on this web site has helped me tremendously. Thank you for all of your time & work. “If you would know strength and patience, welcome the company of trees.” by Hal Borland.

  5. I need to dye a chenille twin duvet and 4 pair of long cotton curtains. I need to dye them a cream color. Any suggestions? Do you know where I can get the Rit dye colors in a chart instead of on the computer because the colors are hard to see.

  6. Thank you so much for sharing this helpful post. I just used the cocoa brown on a cream colored jacket and wound up with a rust color. Not what I expected, but I read your post after I used that color. Now I see…..will keep for future reference….best to you!

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